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Coroner's inquest begins into 2018 death of woman at the Ottawa Hospital

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A coroner's inquest is underway into the death of a 33-year-old woman who died while undergoing treatment at the Ottawa Hospital in 2018.

Renee Thornhill died on May 21. The inquest will examine the circumstances surrounding her death.

The jury will not lay blame or determine liability but may make recommendations aimed at preventing further deaths.

During the first few hours of the inquest, the jury was presented with an overview of some of the evidence it will hear over the course of 10 days.

Coroner's counsel Peter Napier outlined how Thornhill had been addicted to opioids following a car crash and had successfully used methadone to treat her addiction.

Thornhill was born in Newfoundland and moved to Ottawa in 2015.

Napier said Thornhill sought "psychiatric assistance" in 2015. Between March and May 2018, Thornhill visited the hospital emergency department on several occasions for psychiatric and other healthcare needs, he said.

On May 14, Thornhill reported to her doctor that she had relapsed with opioids and methadone was restarted at 30 mg/day.

On May 17, her methadone was increased from 30 mg to 40 mg daily, Napier told the jury. Thornhill was admitted to the emergency ward on May 18 for a combination of "psychosis, drug-induced delirium through intoxication or withdrawal, and concern for harm to others or to herself."

Thornhill was prescribed a number of medications.

The jury heard on May 19 Thornhill showed signs of fatigue and sedation and she was observed to be stumbling by nursing staff.

Thornhill had been admitted to the emergency psychiatric department for three days before being moved to a ward on a psychiatric floor on May 20.

Around 6:20 a.m. on May 21, nursing staff found Thornhill in "grave distress" and called a code blue. Despite resuscitation efforts, she was pronounced dead.

Thornhill's mother Wanda alleges her daughter was overmedicated and given additional doses of what she'd already been given including Ativan and olanzapine, an anti-psychotic.

The Ottawa Hospital says it's fully committed to participating in the inquest to "better understand the circumstances of Ms. Thornhill's death."

"We want to hear the testimony, the recommendations and the findings from the Coroner so that, as a hospital, we can take action where appropriate," the hospital wrote in a statement.

An autopsy listed Thornhill’s cause of death as "methadone toxicity." 

The inquest is expected to last 10 days and hear from 15 witnesses.

The jury will decide how and by what means Thornhill died.

Some inquests, including when someone has died in custody, are mandatory. The inquest into Thornhill's death is considered discretionary and was granted after being requested by the family in the spirit of public good and interest.  

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